He wasn't just Cal Ripken. He was Cal Ripken Jr. Like Sammy Davis and JFK, he never lost the Jr., not even when he turned gray, bald, and 41. Not even Saturday night when he played his 3,001st and final game for the Baltimore Orioles.
And it is The Streak that makes Ripken a baseball god. Sure, he helped redefine the shortstop position and leaves baseball with a new generation of Jeters and A-Rods, big guys who still can cover the ground and go into the hole. But without The Streak, Ripken would be just another 3,000-hit, 400-homer guy (there are six others, including Carl Yastrzemski). Without The Streak, he would be first-ballot Cooperstown and one of the best ever at his position, but The Streak defines his greatness.
And he owes The Streak to Cal Sr., an Orioles coach, manager, and lifer, one of the toughest men who ever lived. Ripken Sr. was a career minor-league catcher who never even got a cup of coffee in the bigs. He caught 100 mph minor-league legend Steve Dalkowski. He drove the team bus to make extra cash for his young family. He drank Schlitz and smoked unfiltered Luckys down to the nub. He believed in the Oriole Way and taught his sons to have respect for baseball. There was only one way to play the game.
Ira Berkow, The New York Times
In the Baltimore Orioles' clubhouse in Camden Yards the other day, Cal Ripken was asked if he would have preferred being a basketball player. Silly question, meant to be a little joke.
There was a pause. Ripken was actually mulling over the question. It is known that Ripken loves basketball. He has a full-court gym in his home in Reisterstown, Md., and, at 6 feet 4 inches and a rock-solid 220 pounds and with a closely shaved head that resembles the coiffure of Michael Jordan, is known to be a good player in the games in which he invites college and sometimes pro players to participate in the off-season.
"Well," he said, "I think I chose the right game for me."
If there is a record for greatest understatement, that observation would have to rank high. This weekend, the end of baseball's regular season, was the culmination, the celebration, the grand finale and farewell of one of the most remarkable careers in sports history.
Steve Jacobson, Newsday
At a time when baseball was wracked by labor-management conflict, Ripken glowed with the concept that a man goes to work on time and does his best every day whether he feels like going to work or not.
He made himself an icon. He played in 2,632 consecutive games through 1998. That included every inning of 932 consecutive games, never mind turned ankles, jammed fingers, aching back and the tread wear that playing shortstop inflicts.
It wasn't so much the Streak, he said, but what it represented. When he was concluding it was time to go, he said, he consulted some retired players. 'They said, "I wish I had played more" or "I wish I had been more serious" or "I wish I took better care of myself," ' he said. He never will have to question himself.
For that he was an icon.
Mark Heisler, Los Angeles Times
Ripken was a Gary Cooper figure, strong and silent, the personification of Old Verities. Whenever the Orioles lost in his declining years, people would ask if he shouldn't rest, or, worse, wasn't putting The Streak ahead of The Ballclub. But playing every day wasn't just something Ripken did, it was what he was.
Bob Lipper, Richmond (Va.) Times-Dispatch
He wasn't larger than life - like [Mark] McGwire, in other words - didn't do somersaults like Ozzie [Smith], isn't a towering clubhouse presence, didn't shower us with glib sound bites. Ripken hasn't got much hair nowadays, but he never really let it down anyway. He's a manual typewriter in a dot.com world-a little old-fashioned, a little bit of a throwback.